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Unit: Culture and Values
Issue: Is It Necessary to Become Less Consumerist?
Yes: Gary Gutting, from "Less, Please," Commonweal (2013)
No: Michael Fisher, from "Review of James Livingston’s Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture Is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul," U.S. Intellectual History (2012)
Professor Gary Gutting, holder of the Notre Dame Endowed Chair in Philosophy, praises the modern economy for its amazing progress in production and consumer benefits but also recognizes its negative effects on our character and authentic well-being. It has led to economic insatiability and shrinking of the common good. Therefore, he favors less consumption. Michael Fisher, graduate student in American history at the University of Rochester, summarizes in this review article the thesis of James Livingston that the consumer culture is good, not bad. Though Fisher supports Livingston’s thesis, he does not agree with Livingston’s positive view of advertising. Nevertheless, he and Livingston favor more consumption.
Issue: Does Social Media Have Largely Positive Impacts on Its Users?
Yes: Karen Hua, from "Where Millennials Make Friends and Mobilize for Change," Forbes (2015)
No: Stephen Marche, from "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?" The Atlantic (2012)
Karen Hua, a staff writer for Forbes, concentrates on teens and finds them using social media to make friends and deepen friendships. She counters the viewpoint that social media provides superficial contacts by observing “that today’s teenagers are forming deep, personal connections and relationships online.” Stephen Marche, a journalist who is on the staff of The Atlantic, recognizes the amazing benefits of social media but reports on stories and studies which fined that Facebook and other social media can isolate us from people we know to people we meet online. Thus social media which are designed to increase our communication with our family and friends can actually make us lonelier.
UNIT: Sex Roles, Gender, and the Family
Issue: Is the American Family in Trouble?
Yes: Isabel V. Sawhill, from "The New White Negro: What It Means That Family Breakdown Is Now Biracial," Washington Monthly (2013)
No: W. Bradford Wilcox, from "Unequal, Unfair, and Unhappy: The 3 Biggest Myths about Marriage Today," The Atlantic (2013)
Isabel V. Sawhill, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, director of the Budgeting for National Priorities Project, and codirector of the Center on Children and Families, points out that marriages in college educated families are not declining but they are declining significantly for noncollege educated families, both white and black. W. Bradford Wilcox, associate professor of sociology and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, describes the positive situation of families today. The majority of marriages are happy and are much more equal and fair than decades ago.
Issue: Can Women Have It All?
Yes: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, from "Sheryl Sandberg's Radically Realistic “And” Solution for Working Mothers," The Atlantic (2013)
No: Anne-Marie Slaughter, from "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," The Atlantic (2012)
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, best-selling author, journalist, and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations’ Women and Foreign Policy program, discusses the issues in Sheryl Sandberg’s famous book; Lean In. Sandberg’s advice to career women is not to opt out but to lean in, that is, to firmly choose both career and parenting. Unfortunately men still run the country so the societal changes that could facilitate Lean In are missing. Full commitment to both career and family will not be easy. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and formerly dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, explains why Sandberg is wrong and women cannot successfully pursue career and family at the same time. They must decide which to do well and which to do adequately but not avidly.
Issue: Is Same-Sex Marriage Harmful to America?
Yes: Peter Sprigg, from "The Top Ten Harms of Same-Sex ‘Marriage’," Family Research Council (2013)
No: Jay Michaelson, from "Joe Biden Takes a Marriage Equality Victory Lap," The Daily Beast (2015)
Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, identifies 10 negative effects of same-sex marriages. Many of these worries concern how various institutions are likely to change as a result of same-sex marriages, and how authorities are likely to change their regulations and enforcement practices. Jay Michaelson supports Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States, who applauds the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage as a form of civil rights. Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry organization, said that Biden deserves the most credit for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
UNIT: Stratification and Inequality
Issue: Is Increasing Economic Inequality a Serious Problem?
Yes: Joseph E. Stiglitz, from "Slow Growth and Inequality Are Political Choices. We Can Choose Otherwise," Washington Monthly (2014)
No: Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, from "Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America's Poor," The Heritage Foundation (2011)
Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, professor of economics at Columbia University, demonstrates the vast inequality in America and argues that it results from exploitation and should be reduced. It has extensive negative impacts on many institutional areas such as health care. He suggests ways to fix these problems which the corporations will fight. Robert Rector is Senior Research Fellow in the Domestic Policy Studies Department, and Rachel Sheffield is a research assistant in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation. They argue that inequality is not so bad because the poor are rather well-off when we look at all the facts. The living conditions of the poor have improved for decades. Most of the poor have consumer items that were significant purchases for the middle class a few decades ago. They establish their thesis on countless facts such as “82 percent of poor adults reported never being hungry at any time in the prior year due to lack of money for food.”
Issue: Has America Made Substantial Progress in the Rights of Blacks?
Yes: Noah C. Rothman, from "The ‘Conversation about Race’ That Isn’t a Conversation: Twenty Years of Talk about Race Obscures This Country’s Remarkable Progress," Commentary (2015)
No: Valerie Tarico, from "When Slavery Won’t Die: The Oppressive Biblical Mentality America Can’t Shake: An Interview with Black Theologian Kelly Brown Douglas on America’s Greatest Sins," AlterNet (2015)
Noah C. Rothman, associate editor of HotAir.com, does not deny that strong racial prejudice still exists among whites, but he also shows many of the ways that behavior and institutions have become less discriminatory. Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer of two books and a number of articles. She begins with the painful story of Dylann Roof’s shooting of nine people in a black church in Charleston because she wants to expose the racist thinking that is behind such acts. Her discussion with Kelly Brown Douglas also covers slavery and Trayvon Martin.
Issue: Has Gender Equality Come a Long Way?
Yes: Ronald Brownstein, from "Poll: American Men Embracing Gender Equality," National Journal (2015)
No: Leisa Peterson, from "Who Am I to Be Financially Feminist? (A Guide for Female Entrepreneurs)," Huffington Post (2015)
Ronald Brownstein, Atlantic Media’s editorial director for strategic partnerships, reports on surprising findings of a recent poll that details major changes in gender attitudes of males and income, racial, and ethnic groups. “The survey suggests that men from all rungs on the economic and social ladder were open to the ‘partnership of equals.’” Leisa Peterson, money mindfulness expert and founder, WealthClinic, points out the many ways that she and other women today are discriminated against. She uses statistics and comparative studies to prove her thesis that women are worse off in several ways.
Issue: Is Government Dominated by Big Business?
Yes: G. William Domhoff, from "Is the Corporate Elite Fractured, or Is There Continuing Corporate Dominance? Two Contrasting Views." Class, Race and Corporate Power (2015)
No: Mark S. Mizruchi, from "The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite," Harvard University Press (2013)
Political sociologist G. William Domhoff presents two theories about who rules America. One is that the corporate elite is fractured and no longer stays united enough to rule America. The second is that the corporate elite is united enough to rule America. He argues for the second view. Mark S. Mizruchi, professor of sociology at Michigan University, argues the first view, that the corporate elite is fractured to the point that it does not rule America but uses its influence for the specific interests of individual corporations. This contributes to declining effectiveness of the American polity.
Issue: Does Capitalism Have Serious Defects?
Yes: Jerry Z. Muller, from "Capitalism and Inequality," Foreign Affairs (2013)
No: Chris Berg, from "Why Capitalism Is Awesome," Cato Policy Report (2013)
Jerry Z. Muller, professor of history at the Catholic University of America and author of The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought, reports on how capitalism inevitably increases inequality because competition results in winners and losers. It is productive but it also increases commodification which erodes cultural values. It is a force for both good and bad. Chris Berg, a research fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, Australia, and author of In Defence of Freedom of Speech, provides an enthusiastic defence of capitalism because it stimulates millions of innovations that improve millions of items that benefit us.
Issue: Does Government Need to Be Restrained?
Yes: Chris Edwards, from "Forget Too Big to Fail . . . The Federal Government Is Too Big to Work," Washington Examiner (2015)
No: Richard Eskow, from "We Need a Bold Left to Challenge Government Downsizing," Campaign for America’s Future (2015)
Chris Edwards editor of Cato Institute’s DownsizingGovernment.org, argues that the federal government runs badly. It is wasteful and inept. It does too much and does not have strong incentives for efficiency and effectiveness. Its problems include top-down planning and bloated bureaucracy. Cut it back. Richard Eskow, writer, a former Wall Street executive and a radio journalist, argues that the government must not be cut back because its services are badly needed. The anti-government side does want increases to the military budget, but the domestic side generates more jobs and growth.
Issue: Was Welfare Reform the Right Approach to Poverty?
Yes: Josh Sager, from "The Flaw in Conservative Anti-Welfare Arguments," The Progressive Cynic (2013)
No: George F. Will, from "The Harm Incurred by a Mushrooming Welfare State," The Washington Post (2015)
Josh Sager, health policy intern at Community Catalyst, argues that most people on welfare want what all Americans want which is a job, the ability to provide for a family, and have pride in what they do. He denies the view of the right that they are lazy and enjoy being dependent and would get jobs when their welfare is taken away. Rather he advocates addressing the underlying causes of poverty. George F. Will, an American newspaper columnist with the Washington Post and political commentator with Fox News, points out the negative results of welfare. He blasts the American government for classifying large numbers of Americans as “needy.” He gets his statistics from Nicholas Eberstadt, who documents the massive expansion of the welfare state and its erosion of recipients’ character.
Issue: Is the Progressive Vision the Answer for Improving the U.S. School System?
Yes: Ruth Conniff, from "A Progressive Vision for Education," The Progressive (2014/2015)
No: Russ Walsh, from "Fix Society, and the Schools Will Follow," The Progressive (2014)
Ruth Conniff, editor and chief of The Progressive, criticizes No Child Left Behind for its excessive testing and teaching to the tests. She promotes a superior model of education which seeks to truly engage students and promote critical thinking. It gives teachers more control and thus treats them as professionals. This has worked in middle-class schools and she advocates its use in poor areas. Russ Walsh, author, teacher, and coordinator of college reading at Rider University in Pennsylvania, reports on the book Fear and Learning in America: Bad Data, Good Teachers, and the Attack on Public Education, by John Kuhn. It blasts most school reform efforts as covers for corporate takeovers of the schools behind the rhetoric of reform.
Issue: Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution Bring About a Wonderful World?
Yes: Danny Crichton, from "Fear Not the Robot: Automation Will Continue to Raise Our Quality of Life," National Review (2015)
No: Katherine Mangu-Ward, from "Will They Take Our Jobs?" Reason (2015)
Danny Crichton sees new technologies greatly increasing production and therefore consumption. Technologies will improve our lives. Digitally run robots are and will produce much faster than humans can and bring us into a wonderful world. Katherine Mangu-Ward sees technology as both good and bad. She is worried that the robots will take away many of our jobs and make most people unneeded in the labor force. What will happen? The results could pull our society apart.
UNIT: Crime and Social Control
Issue: Are the Police in America to Be Condemned?
Yes: Nancy A. Heitzeg, from "“Broken Windows,” Broken Lives and the Ruse of “Public Order” Policing," Truthout (2015)
No: Nick Wing, from "If Most Police Officers Are ‘Good Cops,’ These Are Even Better," Huffington Post (2015)
Nancy A. Heitzeg, a professor of sociology and director of the critical studies of race/ethnicity program at St. Catherine University, presents and refutes the theory behind the “broken windows” approach to policing which is tough on crime and produces high imprisonment rates. She also presents several cases of police killing unarmed blacks and argues that the police need to be better controlled. Nick Wing, Senior Viral Editor at The Huffington Post emphasizes that most cops are good cops and act responsibly. He presents many reports by policemen and police chiefs which tell very positive stories about policemen to balance the very negative stories in the media.
Issue: Is American Justice Too Severe?
Yes: Eric Holder, from "Bold Steps to Reform and Strengthen America’s Criminal Justice System," Vital Speeches of the Day (2013)
No: Zaid Jilani, from "Who Are the Biggest Killers in America? The Numbers Will Shock You," AlterNet (2015)
Eric Holder judges the current judicial system as broken and needing a major overhaul. The prison system needs to continue to punish and deter but also to rehabilitate. Their populations should be reduced, which requires revised judicial laws and policies. “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.” His reforms must also make communities safer. Zaid Jilani is an AlterNet staff writer who makes a good case that the really dangerous criminals are not the poor but the rich and powerful. They make decisions that kill hundreds of thousands of people, while murderers kill about 15,000 a year. For example, medical malpractice kills about 225,000 people a year. They also swindle, defraud, and cheat people out of $486 billion a year versus all property crimes mounting to $17.6 billion a year. These facts point out the real failure of the criminal justice system.
Issue: Is the United States in Significant Danger of Large-Scale Terrorist Attacks?
Yes: James R. Clapper, from "Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community," Senate Intelligence Committee (2015)
No: Washington's Blog, from "There Are Far Fewer Terror Attacks Now Than in the 1970s," Washington’s Blog (2015)
James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, gave this statement to Congress in 2015. It covers all types of terrorism from cyber terrorism to WMD and organized crime terrorism. Washington’s Blog points out that terrorists’ attacks have become practically nonexistent since 2003 (shootings by psychos are not included in these statistics). Its point is that the threat of terrorism in the United States has been greatly exaggerated.
UNIT: The Future: Population/Environment/Society
Issue: Does Immigration Benefit the Economy?
Yes: Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford, from "The Economic Effects of Granting Legal Status and Citizenship to Undocumented Immigrants," Center for American Progress (2013)
No: Association for Mature American Citizens, from "How Much Does Illegal Immigration Cost You?" The Heritage Foundation (2015)
Robert Lynch, Everett E. Nuttle Professor and chair of the Department of Economics at Washington College, and Patrick Oakford, research assistant at the Center for American Progress, show that legal status and a road to citizenship for the unauthorized will bring about significant economic gains in terms of economic growth, earnings, tax revenues, and jobs and the sooner we provide legal status and citizenship, the greater the economic benefits will be for the nation. The main reason is that the immigrants will produce and earn significantly more than they cost and the results will ripple throughout the economy. The Association for Mature American Citizens argues that “Unlawful immigration and amnesty for current unlawful immigrants can pose large fiscal costs for U.S. taxpayers.” The benefits would include Social Security, Medicare, welfare, education, police, and other services. Each such household would receive benefits that would exceed various payments to government of $14,387.
Issue: Is Humankind Dangerously Harming the Environment?
Yes: Daniel Immerwahr, from "Growth vs. the Climate," Dissent (2015)
No: Ramez Naam, from "How Innovation Could Save The Planet," The Futurist (2013)
Daniel Immerwahr reviews the history of environmental concern to 1980 and then the unconcern until recently. He reports the arguments of many major spokespersons for the environmental crisis view and the solutions that they propose. All of them argue that major cutbacks in resource use will be required, but a few of them believe that the quality of our lives could improve at lower consumption levels. Ramez Naam, a computer scientist, author, and former Microsoft executive, argues that innovations will deal with the serious issues of population growth, peak oil, resources depletion, climate change, and limits to growth. After reviewing some of the recent great accomplishments and some of the risks facing the planet, he shows how ideas and innovations have solved similar crises in the past and then gives reasons for being optimistic about the future.
Issue: Should America Seek the Role of World Hegemon or World Leader?
Yes: Salvatore Babones, from "The Once and Future Hegemon," The National Interest (2015)
No: Will Ruger, from "The Case for Realism and Restraint," Reason (2015)
Salvatore Babones, an associate professor of sociology and social policy, argues that America has been the hegemonic power since the collapse of the Soviet Union and is still the hegemonic power even though Obama is not currently asserting this power. We work with other countries but none of them are near us in military or economic power. Will Ruger, an associate professor of political science, agrees that America stands alone in terms of power but advocates restraint in the use of that power. Our goals are better achieved when we share power.